yuuo: (Pandora's Box)
[personal profile] yuuo posting in [community profile] pandorasuniverse
Character/Series: Edward Elric, Cast; AU to the original series
Rating: MA
Notes: Written based on the 'what if' idea that Ed had never been able to bind Al's soul to the armor. Please heed all warnings. All chapters can be found here.
Title: Pandora's Box: Chapter 5 : Who Was
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 6398
Summary: Up to that point, I'd been teaching myself to shoot by just looking at the targets and avoiding picturing them as real people.




who was born in a house full of pain?
who was trained not to spit in the fan?
who was told what to do by the man?
who was broken by trained personnel?
who was fitted with collar and chain?
who was given a pat on the back?
who was breaking away from the pack?
who was only a stranger at home?
who was ground down in the end?
who was found dead on the phone?
who was dragged down by the Stone?
-Pink Floyd

Up to that point, I'd been teaching myself to shoot by just looking at the targets and avoiding picturing them as real people. I didn't want to think about killing another human being ever again, although part of me knew the day was coming when I'd have to.

Now, I was picturing the target as Archer, and all too gladly emptying my clips into the target. Shoot to kill. I didn't miss my mark once.

I think the only thing that kept me from actually following through on this little fantasy was the worry of how much trouble I'd be in this time if I did. Grand would not be pleased, and I doubted Bradley would be on my side in things. I couldn't bank on him not approving of my treatment here, even though he'd somewhat been on my side with Tucker's death.

"Yo, Elric!"

I barely heard my name called over the sounds of gunfire and the muffled quality of any sound through my ear protection. I finished unloading my clip, and looked up with a scowl. Corporal Werner and Sergeant Shepherd were waving at me. "Get over here, Elric!" they signed at me.

I eyed the target, realizing there wasn't much left of the center for me to shoot, and called it quits. I decided I may as well see what those two assholes wanted. They weren't too bad, really, usually looking out for me as best as they could. Hell, they were just about the only ones that did. Most people didn't want to cross Archer enough to try to interfere. Doc Remington usually argued for me, but other than that, most people kept to themselves and stayed out of it.

That was the real bitch of my predicament. Nobody wanted to speak up for me, it seemed like. Werner and Shepherd tried to befriend me, but even they didn't mouth off to Archer. Remington didn't know half of what went on, he just argued against me speaking instead of signing because that's all he really was allowed to know about.

I walked over to where Werner and Shepherd were waiting, putting away my eye and ear protection. "What do you want?" I demanded, moving to sit and clean my gun.

"Haven't seen you yet today," Werner said. "Where you been hiding?"

I looked up at him. "I'm on medical leave for a few days. Doc says my throat is looking rough again." At least, I hoped that's what I said. I was signing one-handed at that point, and it was probably pretty sloppy.

The message seemed to get across to them, though. "Bless that doc, eh?" Shepherd said, taking a seat as I worked. "Hey, come to town with us. Don't waste your time off here in the range. We're on rec leave. We'll take you to town, get you a drink, a whore, and a harmonica. You'll be able to make more noise than that squeaking you call talking."

I gave them a cross look. "I'm underage, remember?" I snapped, pushing the firing pin spring into place. I wasn't interested in drinking, and I really had no interest in sex. Sure, I was twelve, my hormones were starting to make themselves known, but I didn't want to mess up anyone else the way I'd been messed up already. Why I thought just touching someone would do that, I don't know, but I didn't want to do it.

"And? You're old enough to be out here, that means you're old enough to relax, and enjoy a woman," Shepherd said. "Some of those whores aren't any older than you, anyway, so we'll find one in your age range."

That thought disturbed the hell outta me.

"And you haven't lodged a protest to the harmonica yet, Elric," Werner pointed out.

I snapped a fresh clip into place and put my gun away before giving him sidelong look. "When do I have time to worry about a harmonica?" I demanded.

"You won't be here forever, it's something to do, and it's easy to carry around," Shepherd said. "A lot of guys around here play, you'll find someone to teach you. You do get time off, you know. That old bastard in the office can't keep you running ragged forever."

I didn't want to count on that. But, I knew these two, they'd hound me until the end of my leave if I didn't agree to at least go with them and try one of the things they planned for me, and a harmonica sounded harmless enough, so I sighed. "Fine," I said. "But I'm only going for the harmonica."

Werner and Shepherd weren't to be thwarted, though, as they ordered me a glass of scotch as soon as we were seated at the tavern, a shiny new harmonica in my hands. I ignored the drink in favor of fiddling with the instrument, giving it an experimental try.

"Kid, we'll get you a teacher, take the scotch before you start to torture us," Shepherd said.

I cast him a baleful glare. "You're the one who wanted me to get one," I snapped, then eyed the drink warily. After some goading, that may or may not have included an accusation of cowardice, I took a drink.

God, that shit burns! I coughed, slamming the glass back down on the table as I struggled to get the burn out of my throat. Oh, that shit made my throat ache worse than it had been. "No good," I signed one-handedly, the other hand still clutching my glass tightly. "Burns my throat too much."

Werner made a face, but seemed to understand as he stole off with the glass. "Yeah, that's fine, Elric. We understand, gotta take care of the throat." He finished off the last of my drink with just a few swallows, then shook his head. "Man, that's the good stuff, though. Too bad, Elric, you missed out." He waved to a nearby waitress who looked like she doubled as a whore. "Hey, bring us some water for our friend here. Bad throat and all, you understand," he said to her with a grin, looking over her appreciatively.

I coughed a couple more times at the irritation, gladly taking the water once the waitress brought it back, and swallowing it quickly. It tasted like there was too much calcium in the water, but it was water and it didn't burn, that's all I cared about.

"Damn shame," Shepherd said. "You knocked that back like an old pro." He took a drink of his own alcoholic swill, glancing around at the women in the joint. "Okay, since you can't drink, and it's too early to pick out a girl, let's hear you try that harmonica. Might attract a beauty over for ya."

"Or chase them away," Werner said with a stupid grin.

I inspected the instrument carefully, making a couple test notes with it. Music was basically a set of patterns, a sort of natural alchemy, constructing patterns of sounds to make something pleasing to the ear. It shouldn't be too hard.

Of course, my first attempt was pitiful. Werner and Shepherd both made faces. "Oh god, stop killing it, Elric," Werner said, rubbing his ear.

I turned red, setting the harmonica down. "Just remember, you two assholes are the ones that wanted me to have that thing."

"Yeah, we wanted you to learn to play it," Shepherd protested. "Not torture us with it."

"I can teach to play," a quiet, feminine voice said from nearby. One of the waitresses- she looked younger than most of the others- stood by our table, a nervous look on her face. "I play," she explained in her heavy Drachman accent. "I can teach." She was a pretty young girl, probably no more than about fifteen, with light red hair, pale skin and dark eyes.

Werner and Shepherd exchanged a look that made my nerves knot up. Shepherd looked over at the waitress. "Young lady, that would be great if you could. You got a room or something you can take him to do that so he doesn't torture us while he's getting the hang of it?"

The girl gave me a shrewd look, and I could feel myself turning red and trying to sink under the table. "Music lesson free," she told Shepherd. "Room cost."

Shepherd yanked out a few bills, handing them over. "I'll cover the room then, just make sure his harmonica doesn't make our ears bleed."

The girl accepted the money, tucking it down her shirt before stepping around the table and holding out her hand for me. "Bring harmonica," she told him. "I teach. You learn. Promise. Leann good teacher." I inwardly spazzed, barely remembering to grab the harmonica as the girl led me away from the table. I flipped off Shepherd and Werner over my shoulder for getting me into this mess, which was met with laughter from the two men in question.

This was not happening. It couldn't be happening. Oh god, it was happening. I was going to a paid room with a whore. The world could swallow me anytime.

The room Leann led me to was small, with just a nightstand, a chair and a bed and a small lamp that barely illuminated the room. The purpose of the room was pretty clear, the bed just big enough for two people, and the headboard set up with two straps tied firmly to the end bars. I could feel my whole face practically on fire.

Leann looked at me and laughed. "No blushing," she told me. "First, learn music. Then blush." Well, she was certainly succinct.

The flush died a bit as I looked at my harmonica. "You mean you really can teach me to play this thing?" I asked in a hoarse whisper.

She looked at me funny. "Voice bad. Will teach to play. You can speak again. Speak with music." She settled down on the bed, crossing her legs underneath her, and patted the bed in front of her. "You sit. I will teach."

Leann, it turned out, was quite the accomplished musician with the harmonica, leading me through the basic scales until I had the hang of where the different notes were without thinking about it.

Leann smiled. "You good student," she told him. I flushed at the compliment, and then again as she removed her shirt. "Reward now," Leann explained.

I desperately tried to look anywhere but at her as she removed her bra, exposing her breasts. My hormones were interested, but my brain and stomach were both rebelling violently, and winning against my hormones in a battle of who got say here. "Leann, put your shirt back on," I whispered. "I don't want to have sex with you."

She leaned forward, her hand brushing down over my groin, which only served to make my hormones fight harder. "Room paid, you get reward," she said quietly, then ducked her head.

"No!" I tried to shout, grabbing her head and lifting it back up. "Please, just the music."

Leann's expression turned into desperate pleading that probably mirrored my own. "Please," she whispered. "They know. They find out. I get in trouble."

That giant 't' word loomed large in my face. I didn't want her in trouble, god only knew what her punishment would be.

"I'm twelve," I croaked, hoping against all odds that she could find a way to stay out of trouble without either of us being subjected to something we didn't want. She was young, she couldn't possibly enjoy being whored out.

"I fifteen," she said, just as miserable. "Please, I be nice. I be careful."

I didn't want her in trouble. So, despite the fact that all my experience in that area beyond study was with Archer, despite the fact that even though I wasn't really doing much to control the situation, I went along.

In retrospect, I could've transmuted some silly 'evidence' to keep Leann out of trouble without dropping us head first into an uncomfortable situation, but I was panicked at the time.

She taught me several things with the harmonica that night, which gave me music back in my life, something that had been missing since Mom's death. We only did anything but focus on the harmonica once, just enough to make it obvious that Leann had done her job, but we spent hours there. It was more comfortable there with her than it would've been staying down in the tavern, waiting for Shepherd and Werner.

I could've killed them for putting me into that situation.

I didn't offer them anything in the way of conversation on the way back.

"So Elric, how was she?" Shepherd asked, turning in his seat to face me.

I glared at him. "You're a pervert, Shepherd," I snapped. "She taught me to play harmonica, that's all." Like I was going to admit to those two assholes what'd happened. It wasn't any of their damn business.

"Yeah?" Werner looked at me in the rearview mirror. "Play us a bar, Elric. Prove it."

I spent the rest of the car ride back to base playing, proving what a quick study I was. I wasn't perfect by any means, I was still a little slow and clumsy, but I hit the right notes, and I didn't go off-key, which was the important part, so there was no comments of 'torturing' anyone's ears.

When we got back, I immediately hit the showers to wash off the feel of Leann from my skin. I hated that life up north so much. I was too young for a whore, I was too messed up to be touched, and I never wanted that kind of contact again.

I made another one of those life-altering decisions then, as I got dressed. I was going to get out of there. Even if I couldn't sneak anything past Archer to communicate with Hughes directly from there, if I could maybe get away to another base before Archer caught me, I could contact Hughes from there.

I would regret that decision, too.

***


My first escape was planned. I waited for my next medical leave, which came about a month later, and grabbed my suitcase and snuck out of the building. I planned on hitching a ride on the train, figuring it'd get me so far away that they couldn't catch me before they even knew I was gone.

My problem was, I'd never been on a full unload of supplies, so I had no idea what they did after the train was fully unloaded. I waited for them to finish a car, then snuck past them, taking advantage of my small size to hide behind crates and boxes until I was up in the car, and settled in in a back corner to wait for the train to move.

This would've been a much more brilliant plan, except they went back and inspected each car to make sure they hadn't missed anything. So I was caught red-handed as an attempted deserter.

Normally, I think I would've just been sent back to my dorm and told to knock that shit off, since most people there didn't care to get involved with Archer if they could help it. But desertion is taken very seriously in the military, and I pissed off a few people that way, so the soldiers who found me held me at the train until Archer arrived.

"What is going on here?" Archer demanded as he walked over.

I gripped my suitcase hard, resisting the urge to just run. I probably would've been shot or something.

"We found him in the train car, sir," a soldier said, saluting.

Archer looked at me. It was obvious I was running away. What else would I be doing in the train, with my suitcase with me? "Going somewhere, Fullmetal?"

I wanted to close my eyes and will this all away as my stomach tied up in knots. "No, sir," I said, trying to summon enough volume to be heard over the general noise of the wind and the train and the workers.

I don't know if he heard me or just read my lips, but Archer seemed to get what I said. "Then what were you doing?"

I didn't answer. I couldn't. I felt tongue-tied. My mouth felt numb. I was terrified out of my mind as to what this would mean. Would I lose my certification? It almost seemed certain. There was nothing he could do that was worse than taking away my hope at getting Al back.

"Take his suitcase back to his dorm," Archer commanded one of the soldiers, then looked back at me. "Bring him with me."

One of the soldiers took my suitcase from me, and I followed Archer weakly, another officer keeping right behind me to keep me from running away. Like I was going to. I'd get shot. Or worse. Who knew what would happen to me if I turned and bolted? Besides, I was not leaving without that suitcase. It had too many valuable notes, and that picture that I would never give up.

They took me out back, where a tall pole stood, with straps hanging down from it. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what it was for. I was to get the lash, and I wasn't sure if I was relieved or not that at least it wasn't my certification that was getting shredded, and just my back, instead.

I was stripped from the waist up, including the hairfelt covering on my automail, and after some dicking around with the straps which were really too high for me, I was strapped to the pole, facing away from Archer and the soldier that had come with us.

"You will count the strokes, Fullmetal," Archer told me. "You get five. You miss a count, we will start over." The man was a raving lunatic.

The anticipation was almost worse than that first crack of the whip and the sting of the first strike. It wasn't quite like automail surgery- nothing would ever compare to that, and if I had gone through that for Al, I would go through this, but it still hurt, stung and burned as the whip smacked soundly against my back. It cut deep, I'm not going to lie. Even now, I still have the scars from every single whipping I got.

"One," I whispered through clenched teeth, sucking in my breath sharply against the pain.

The whip cracked again and opened a new wound on my back. I tried to make a sound, coughed out a broken squeak, and hissed out a two. I wasn't sure how Archer heard me, but he obviously did, and I didn't lose count. But there were tears leaking out the corner of my eyes by the time we were done.

"Take him to the infirmary," I heard Archer order distantly, and just as distantly I was aware of being unstrapped and led inside to the infirmary. I heard Doc Remington talking, but I couldn't process what he said. I just laid there on my side on the bed as he treated my back.

I hadn't gotten away. And my reality had just gotten worse.

Archer decided to put me on actual assignments after that. Mostly supply runs. Which meant I was taught to use a bolt-action Springfield rifle and finally outfitted with a cold weather uniform, which consisted of overalls and trouser liners, a coat liner, a coat and trousers, and a parka, with gloves, goggles, and balaclava, and this was over my hairfelt automail covering and my undergarments. In the cold weather, it was necessary, especially as we tromped farther north with valuable supplies for firebases over the Drachman border.

My first few supply runs were quiet. We took the supplies to Firebase Ladybird the first trip, and I got to see a cold weather firebase for the first time. It was little more than a collection of half-underground shelters, with insulating materials creating an igloo-like top. About ninety percent of the shelter was underground though, so very little stuck out as a target, which was probably the point. We serviced a few other firebases around the area, and they all looked the same.

We somewhat irregularly got attacked by Drachman guerillas. The guerillas differed from Drachman army regulars in that these were civilians their military had handed weapons to and told to go have fun. They didn't like us in their country, and they let us know by attacking out of nowhere, leaving a trail of destruction behind them, then disappearing into the snow and trees like they'd never been there. Most encounters with them left dead bodies all over the place- both ours and theirs- but with me along, we mostly survived intact. Instead of firing back, I'd put up a wall around us that would block the incoming gunfire until the guerrillas gave up and left.

I refused to fight back. Defending like that was just fine for me. I refused to kill another person if I could help it, and it saved more lives than anything else we'd been doing, and my platoon was grateful for it. They got to live. Without lifting a finger.

I was usually at the back of the group when we would carry supplies, pulling up the rear, for what reason I didn't know, but it gave me the opportunity for a second attempt at an escape. I tucked the picture and Dad's notes into various pockets I transmuted on the inside of my trouser liner before going out for a supply run. I didn't worry about my extra clothes or suitcase- I could always transmute new clothes and get another suitcase. I had my papers, my military ID, my watch, and the picture, that's all I really needed that I couldn't replace.

I was pulling up the rear, as usual, and once we were well away from Acheron Station, I started falling back, just a little at a time, until I was well away from my group. Then I took off. I figured I'd just run until I found another supply station or something, which wasn't very clear planning, but I needed out of there desperately.

I didn't get far before I heard gunfire back from the direction of my platoon. I froze to the spot, listening as I heard yelling and gunfire mixing into one loud cacophony of noise. Those men were dying, and if I'd been there, they wouldn't be.

I was torn. My freedom was one direction, but the men I was supposed to help defend were needing my help in the other direction. Ultimately, my sense of duty won out; I was desperate to get out of that place, but I couldn't do it at the sacrifice of other lives.

Before I even got back to the group, the gunfire had gone quiet. I stopped again; at this point, I wouldn't do any good, since I didn't know medicinal alchemy, and the best I could do would be to defend any survivors on the way back to get treated by Doc Remington and his staff.

Goddamnit, I didn't think they'd get attacked. With a sigh, I tromped back through the snow to where the group was waiting.

"Goddamnit, Elric, where the hell were you?" my L-T snapped as I came into view. Men were wounded, and a few were dead. I felt sick.

"Sorry," I whispered, hanging my head. It was pathetic, but what else could I say? Those men were dead because of me. It wasn't the same as when I'd killed Tucker, but the guilt was there, nonetheless.

When we got back to Acheron, the L-T reported my desertion. To say Archer was not pleased would be an understatement.

"You are pushing my patience, Fullmetal," he told me as he dragged my by my ear to the dorms. "Get changed into your uniform." I knew I was in for another lashing, or god forbid, something worse, so I didn't argue, went into my dorm room and changed into my uniform, taking care to put away the picture and the other things I'd taken with me.

"Fullmetal, it does not take this long to change," Archer snapped from the other side of my door. Knowing full well what was coming, and hating every second of it, I indulged in a childish urge to flip him off from the safety of my room, where he couldn't see before opening my door.

He grabbed my arm, dragging my bodily down the halls to the back where the lash was set up. "I had truly hoped you'd learned your lesson with the last time," he said. "It seems you must have your lesson repeated before it takes."

I was once again strapped up and the lash taken to my back. Five strokes leaving five more deep grooves that would scar me forever. Afterwards, I was taken to the infirmary.

"This is insanity," Remington muttered as he cleaned the blood from my back. "You're a child. What did you do to warrant this?"

"Tried to get away again," I whispered without any emotion, laying on my stomach, staring at the wall as he worked. "I deserved this, those men are dead because I wasn't there."

Remington leaned down into my field of vision. "Edward, you never deserve such treatment. You are a child, you should not even be here."

"They're dead," I repeated, not even wincing at the sting of hydrogen peroxide in my injuries.

Remington sighed. "Edward, that is the rule of war. Men die. They fight, and scream and die, and I can't change that, and neither can you. Should you have run away? No, you should not have. But this sort of treatment is barbaric for an adult, it's insanity for a child. Don't take the blame, Edward, you'll be carrying it around for the rest of your life."

He wasn't wrong, either. I still feel guilty for that, and it's been years.

***


I was kept on supply run duty, despite my attempted escape, and kept up the pattern of putting up a barrier wall whenever we got attacked by guerillas, which was less often than not, thankfully. Unfortunately, those guerillas got smart to my ploys and started their attacks with grenades that would demolish my walls, leaving us prone to gunfire before I could put up more protection.

It got to where I was all but useless after that initial attack, and we had to start relying on our guns. I hated that thing. I was good with it, make no mistake, or at least, I was good when working with a paper target, but I'd never shot a human before, and I didn't intend to start, so after they'd demolish my wall, I'd lay low and let the gunfire go on above my head.

The last time I tried to run away was fully unintentional. We'd been on a supply run, when we got attacked. As usual, I put up my defensive wall around us and the valuable supplies we carried, which quickly got demolished, and then the gunfire started.

My fellows were so busy aiming their guns, I was the only one who noticed a guerilla approaching our supplies with a grenade in his hand. Without thinking, I whipped up my rifle and fired. The man toppled with a yell. I crawled towards the supplies to see if he was dead or merely injured- I hoped for injured, but if he was, I had to get that grenade away from him before he caused trouble. I was almost there when the grenade went off, scattering blood and bits of the guerilla's body everywhere, including all over me.

I laid there in shock for a moment, then panicked as the blood and tissue slid down my face. Even though it was the enemy and I would more likely get commended for the kill, all I could see was the blood from Tucker and fear of further punishment drove me to my feet and running.

Somehow, miraculously, I managed to avoid getting shot as I ran. Forget my ID, forget my notes, forget the picture, I was in trouble, and I wasn't going back for it.

I don't know how long I ran until I ran headlong into a patrol from one of the local firebases. "Hold your fire!" I heard their sergeant call. "It's one of ours!"

The lieutenant grabbed me by my shoulders. "Calm down, kid!" he snapped as I struggled. "What're you running from?"

I stared up at him, trying to reign my fear in. "Attack- we were attacked," I whispered hoarsely. "I killed him, it's my fault." I was babbling, but fear had me in a cold grip that was only barely starting to slacken.

The lieutenant and the sergeant exchanged a glance. "Sounds like a cherry to me, L-T," the sergeant said. "First kill, I've seen men run scared like that before. Kid looks like he's younger than most."

"Right," the lieutenant said, then looked at me. "Where's your patrol, kid?"

I shook my head, starting to calm down, and realizing that I was probably in more trouble for running away than I would've if I'd stayed. "Supply run from Acheron," I said, then motioned in the direction I'd come from.

"Probably takin' supplies to Ladybird," the sergeant said. "Come on, L-T, we aren't going to find any guerillas this way, and those men sound like they could use a hand. We need those supplies."

The lieutenant looked at me for a long moment as I felt increasingly foolish. "All right. Platoon, move out, we're getting this kid back to his men."

We marched back the direction I'd come from, with me stuck between the sergeant and lieutenant. Now that I was calm, I knew if I'd just stayed still, I might've gotten a commendation for protecting those supplies, and now that I'd run, I really was in trouble. A normal commanding officer might've had mercy on me, written me up at most, given that I was a child who just killed someone deliberatly for the first time, but not Archer.

It was only a will of steel that kept me moving forward instead of trying to run again. I didn't want to get the lash again, I didn't want to go back and face Archer, I wanted out of there. But running away would lose me my certification and my last hope at getting Al back. I'd face whatever Archer could do to me to get Al back.

As I expected, I got five more with the lash. That was the last time I ran away.

***


I got sick on my last supply run. I felt freezing, even with all those layers, and I thought something was on my goggles, because my vision kept going blurry. I didn't think it was a fever, since it'd been forever since I last had a fever where I wasn't completely and utterly incoherent. The pain fever I'd had with automail surgery had left me out of it. This didn't have me out of it, it just had me miserable.

I had been warned that I was likely more susceptible to throat infections, and I'd been doing a lot of talking without a medical leave to give my throat a rest, so it really should've been obvious to me that I was sick, but I didn't think I was for some reason. I just thought it was colder than normal that day, that my goggles were smeared or something.

The staff sergeant at the front of the line held up a hand in a fist, and everyone stepped to the sides of the trail, crouching down, waiting for either the 'all clear', or for hell to erupt.

For what had to be the longest minute of my life, nothing happened. Then the whistle of incoming artillery filled the air around us seconds before the artillery impacted, scattering the supplies and the soldiers guarding them.

The explosion was deafening, and my head spun and my ears rang as I tried to get to my feet, feeling around for my rifle almost blindly. Artillery whistled again and I clapped my hands, slamming them against the snow-covered ground quickly. A protective wall erupted from the ground, absorbing the impact of the artillery and providing a shield from the rain of gunfire from Drachman guerrillas.

Orders were shouted and fire returned; it sounded distant to my ears as I scrambled around, looking for the rifle I'd dropped in the explosion. Behind me, someone shouted something that sounded like my name. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement from the wrong direction- my fellows were behind me, not in front of me. I didn't think, I reacted, diving forward for my rifle and raising it, firing without aiming.

The Drachman guerrilla went down with a yell. Behind me, the sounds of gunfire tapered off as the remaining guerrillas were either killed, or disappeared back into the trees the way they always did.

"Elric!" The staff sergeant jogged over to me, picking his way through the snow bank. "You okay, kid?"

I almost didn't register him, staring at where the Drachman I'd shot went down. There was no sign of movement- I was fairly certain the man was dead.

"Yo, Elric! Snap out of it. This is no time to get shell-shocked on me," the sergeant snapped, shaking my shoulder.

I jumped, glancing up at him, the nodded in a way that only shock could produce. "Yeah. I'm okay. Sorry."

The sergeant looked over at the body, then looked at me. "Yeah, he's dead, kid. Don't let it get to you. If it wasn't him, it would've been you or one of us. You just helped save someone's life. Think of it that way."

I tried to. I had a feeling it'd be awhile before that trick worked.

"Come on. Let's get these supplies to FBO, then we can head back to base." The sergeant helped me to my feet; I wobbled, gripping the sergeant's arm to stay upright. "Hey, you okay? That blast knocked you a bit, huh?"

Right, the blast. I nodded, regretting the action. I still felt cold and now the world was spinning.

For a moment, the sergeant didn't say anything, then pulled down my balaclava. "God, kid, you look like you're burning up." He called over one of the other men. "Take Elric back to base," he ordered the other soldier. "Have him checked out by Doc Remington. I don't need a sick man on this run." He looked at me. "You hear that, Elric? Go get checked out."

I nodded, again regretting it, and let the private that had been waved over lead me back to the trail and in the direction of base.

Doc Remington put me into quarantine when I got there, and immediately started treating me for a throat infection. My fever had spiked quite a bit, although I was too incoherent to remember how high he said it got, but I knew it wasn't good. I spent the next couple days trapped in the infirmary, riding out the infection.

As soon as I was well enough to go back on duty, Archer called me to his office. This time, when I entered, I gave him a sharp salute and spoke as clearly as I could without being told to. "Reporting for duty, sir." It hurt, my throat was still raw from my infection.

"You can sign, Fullmetal," Archer told me, then motioned to a soldier next to him. "I've brought in an interpreter. I don't want you to relapse, after all."

"Yes, sir."

He signed off on a paper before looking at me. "You are being deployed. To Firebase Olivia. You will serve there two months, and if your behavior has been satisfactory to the captain in charge, you will be released to return here."

Two months of deployment, then who knew how much longer of hell here. I kept my back ramrod straight and looked straight ahead, not showing my disappointment. I would survive this, and he'd have no choice but to eventually let me go. "Yes, sir."

"You should be glad for this, Fullmetal," Archer said. "You can use field sign as much as you want. But don't forget, when you get back here, I still expect you to speak when you can."

"Of course, sir."
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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

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